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Lawmakers Want to Punish Parents for Leaving Kids in Cars & Home Alone

The Short of It

Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a range of laws that would punish parents for leaving kids alone.

The Lowdown

If you ever leave a child younger than 7 years old alone in the car for a moment to run into a 7-Eleven for milk, or your 10-year-old stays by herself while you grab a younger sibling from a playdate at a neighbor's house, you may soon be breaking the law—if you live in Rhode Island. This state is currently reviewing legislation that seeks to regulate when and where parents leave their kids by themselves. The proposed laws would extend to mandating how old a child should be to be left home alone at night and at what temperature private school students should play outdoors.

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It's worth mentioning 19 other states have laws that punish parents for leaving their kids alone in the car, and several stipulate how old a child must be to be left home alone. But critics say it isn't the government's job to tell parents how to do their jobs.

You can't legislate parenting, and you can't legislate common sense. I'm in one of those neighborhoods where the children run free. They all know their boundaries, and we keep an eye on them," Rhode Island resident Rema Tomka told local NBC News 10

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New York mom and author Lenore Skenazy, who runs a blog called "Free-Range Kids" says, "Basically we are punishing people who don't have the resources to be helicopter parents, as if helicopter parenting is essential, which it's not. These laws are preposterous. They assume it is the government's job to dictate family life. They criminalize maturity in children and common sense in parents and turn mundane decisions, like running out to do an errand, into legal minefields."

Many people have echoed similar types of sentiments, stalling the proposed bill and prompting lawmakers to consider less aggressive punishments. For example, one form of the bill would punish parents who left kids alone in the car by taking away their driver's license or fining them up to $1,000.

Meanwhile, state Sen. William Walaska wants to go after any parent whose kids stay home by themselves.

"We have kids constantly left home alone. It's a danger. Imagine they open up a cupboard and there's some chemicals in there," he said.

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The Upshot

According to Kids and Cars, 38 children die from hot car deaths each year. And there's no doubt accidents are possible, and dangers exist for kids who are by themselves in a vehicle or at home. So the intent of lawmakers to protect children is definitely well-placed. But there must be a line between preventing child cruelty and attempting to legislate how we parent.

If as a mother I feel I've made a good judgment by leaving my 5-year-old in the car in order to run into her older sister's school for pickup, that should be my call. I have determined my daughter is mature enough to handle the situation, because we've talked about how to handle potential dangers. And I'm doing my best as a mom, who has a job, three kids, and limited time. I don't need the government trying to make me feel guilty about my parenting decision!

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